A new program that will see local startups tap directly into the computing power of Big Blue to develop cutting-edge technologies in fields such as artificial intelligence and big-data analytics made its debut in Ottawa on Friday.
The $47-million IBM Innovation Incubator Project is a provincewide partnership between the multinational tech giant and the government of Ontario. Under the program, IBM is working with fledgling companies in several Ontario tech hubs, including Invest Ottawa’s incubator at Bayview Yards, giving them access to high-powered cloud computing technology and other resources in a bid to help the province’s SMEs scale up and market their products around the world.
The province is kicking in $22.75 million through its Jobs and Prosperity Fund, with IBM providing the rest of the funding. Originally launched last year in Toronto, the program officially announced its presence at Bayview Yards on Friday.
“It enriches the capability that our local companies have by allowing them to punch above their weight,” said Invest Ottawa CEO Mike Tremblay, who noted much of the technology IBM will be sharing with local startups was actually developed at the firm’s offices in Ottawa. “That to me is a huge asset, and it’s a great way to us to propagate our local knowledge.”
In addition to helping small companies hone their ideas and build pilot projects using technology such as IBM’s Watson supercomputers, the program will also give startups access to the global firm’s sales networks once products are ready to go to market.
“Big companies like to deal with big companies,” said Tom Corr, CEO of the Ontario Centres of Excellence, a non-profit, government-funded organization that is administering the program on behalf of the province.
“So if (startups) come in under IBM’s wing, it helps give them the credibility and the comfort they need in order to move ahead.”
Two Ottawa companies, fintech startup ChangeJar and artificial intelligence firm Larus Technologies, are already part of the program.
ChangeJar founder Tom Camps said his firm is using IBM technology to help develop its next-generation “digital wallet.” Partnering with the global tech powerhouse has also opened doors to potential customers in the financial world that would have never known about the young Ottawa company otherwise, he added.
“If you have global aspirations, I strongly encourage you to work with IBM,” he told the audience during the announcement at Bayview Yards.
Mr. Corr said Ottawa’s expertise in telecommunications and networking technology and its growing number of software startups made it a natural choice to host the program.
“There’s so much going on in terms of new networks and 5G and so on that it simply makes sense to take advantage of that whole infrastructure of entrepreneurs who’ve come out of that space,” he said. “A culture tends to build around a city or a region, and here it’s very much driven by communications (technology).”
IBM is also working with other innovation centres across the province, including Toronto’s DMZ tech incubator and MaRS Discovery District, Waterloo’s Communitech and ventureLAB in Markham.
IBM Canada senior innovation executive Allen Lalonde called the program a “tremendous success,” noting it is already helping about 250 startups. He said it is currently slated to run until early 2019 but will likely be extended and expanded.